“We could be heroes.”

Take a moment today to remember Bowie, who would have turned 75 years old today. In retrospect, his passing two days after his 69th birthday in 2016 was the point at which everything turned to shit. Next came Prince, and after that, well, Trump and COVID.

There’s lots of ways to remember him. If you have to pick one, you can do a lot worse than “Heroes.”

Another great option is his final album, Blackstar, released on his birthday the year he died. At the time, I thought it was easily among his strongest albums, and the six intervening years have done nothing to change my mind. Listening to it now, understanding that he knew he was dying as he wrote those words, gives it a weight beyond the text.

GenX, drifting well past the midpoint

An unexpectedly sad aspect to the common activity of “whoa! I haven’t thought of $song in years… whatever happened to that band?” is, well, discovering someone who lived in your stereo at some point died a while back.

The first time I remember this happening was a year or so ago, when I randomly heard “How Bizarre” on the radio, and it stayed on my mind enough to Google OMC once I got home. I discovered that Pauly Fuemana, the frontman and singer from OMC, had died in 2010 of a degenerative nerve disease.

I was reminded of this after falling down the Google hole while listening to “Fade Into You” thanks to a BoingBoing post. The song was everywhere in the mid-90s, and honestly it’s never really gone away. Lots of folks probably think of Mazzy Star as a one-hit band, but they had much broader success — just nothing at the scale of “Fade” (but few songs are).

It remains beautiful and ethereal, thanks in part to Hope Sandoval‘s lyrics and delivery, but we ought not overlook her songwriting partner David Roback; all of Mazzy’s output is credited to her for lyrics and him for composition. Roback and Sandoval were the creative center of the band (which, we should note, released three albums AFTER So Tonight That I May See).

So here we are at the point of the post: David Roback — whose career included two other critically-acclaimed LA bands — died last February of metastatic cancer. BrooklynVegan has a roundup of musician responses, which will give you an idea of his influence and reach beyond Mazzy Star. He was 61.

Definitive Proof of the Dangers of Jam Band Music

Phish concert spreads COVID across the entire country.

Over Halloween weekend, the Vermont jam band Phish played a series of concerts in Las Vegas. Several days later, one attendee posted to Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 — and more than 500 replied, most saying that they or someone they knew had also tested positive after attending the concert.

I’ve always thought that Phish a contagion, but this is not how I expected that to manifest.

The reaping is upon us

Thinking about Watts, and I realize that in 5 years, most of these will be gone. I mean, let’s be honest: At threescore and ten, you’re in the zone of statistical danger.

  • Bill Wyman the long-retired Rolling Stones bassist, was born in 1936 and turns 85 in October.
  • Mick Jagger turned 78 in July, and has concert dates scheduled next month.
  • Keith Richards is a year younger at 77, and is presumably also planning to play those shows.
  • Ronnie Wood is still the new guy in the Stones, even though he joined 46 years ago. He was born in June of 1947, so he’s a sprightly 74, and will presumably join his mates on the bill next month.
  • Paul McCartney, bass & co-lead-songwriter for the Beatles, turned 79 this summer. He released a solo album last December.
  • Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ drummer, turned 81 this year.
  • Brian Wilson, the only one who mattered in the Beach Boys was born in 1942; he turned 79 this summer. Was still touring when COVID hit.
  • Eric Clapton, noted racist and occasional guitarist, was born on the 30th of March 1945, and so rings up at 76.
  • Bob Dylan turned 80 this year.
  • Steve Winwood was the kid of the 60s bands; he was only 19 when “Gimme Some Lovin'” was a hit for the Spencer Davis Group. Even so, math’s a bitch, as he’s now 73.
  • The Kinks’ Davies brothers are in this group, too: Ray was born in 1944, and just turned 77. Baby brother Dave is 74.
  • Roger Daltrey turned 77 this year.
  • Pete Townshend is a year younger at 76.
  • Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel both turn 80 this fall.

We think of these as 70s bands, not 60s bands, and yet they’re not much younger:

  • The surviving members of Zeppelin are getting up there, too. Jimmy Page is a contemporary of the folks above, born in January of 1944. Plant was famously younger — too young to enter some of the venues Zep played early on — but he turned 73 last week. John Paul Jones is only a year younger, so 75.

  • 70s stalwarts Aerosmith are in statistical danger, too: Steven Tyler is 73; Joe Perry turns 71 next month.

Pink Floyd are actually older as well:

  • Nick Mason, b 1944, currently 77
  • Roger Waters turns 78 next month
  • David Gilmour turned 75 this year

“You’re my fucking singer.”

Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones for 58 years — and, not for nothing, Shirley’s husband for 57 — has died at the age of 80. Initially a jazz player, he was coaxed into what would become the Stones by Mike, Keith, and Brian, and stayed there holding down a stalwart rhythm section for the rest of his life. Mick, Keith, and Charlie are the only members present on every studio record, from 1964’s England’s Newest Hit Makers through to Blue & Lonesome in 2016.

The Rolling Stones have been a novelty / nostalgia act now for a long, long time; my guess is that in the utter SEA of excellent music now available to folks who enjoy this sort of thing, it’s absurdly easy to overlook boomer-era bands entirely, and a young person just getting to know the musical world wouldn’t be insane to have done so. Their glory years are long, long behind them — their last relevant studio record was (arguably) 40 years ago (Tattoo You, which gave us “Start Me Up” and “Waiting On A Friend”), but they’ve kept touring. Their “No Filter” world tour was interrupted by Corona, but was set to resume next month in St. Louis. Ominously in retrospect, earlier this month they announced that longtime associate Steve Jordan would be handling the drums for this leg as Charlie underwent an unspecified medical procedure. (The buried lede here, of course, is that he was still playing live at 79; the last pre-COVID show was 2 years ago this month in Miami).

Their footprint is enormous and inescapable, and I’d argue more interesting and long-lasting than either of the other two “great” 60s bands (the Beatles and the Beach Boys). It’s hard to say what will happen now; obviously they continued after Bill Wyman retired almost a quarter century ago, but this is different. Mick is 78. Keith is a year younger. Nobody would blame them if they packed it in after these shows.

(Oh, and the headline is from here, in case you didn’t already know.)

What were YOU doing on October 25, 1990?

I was in Birmingham, on a school night — well, a college night; it was a Thursday, and nobody took early classes on a Friday — to see Robert Plant on his Manic Nirvana tour. Someone we’d never heard of was opening.

Those someones blew us all the fuck away, because they were the then-completely-unknown Black Croweshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Crowes). That first album hit huge shortly thereafter — I can’t imagine we were the only cadre of folks who bought it the day after seeing them, and then kept playing it for YEARS.

Well, comes now the news that they’re touring again, finally. They’d announced a reunion tour, playing the first album in its entirety plus others, before COVID, but then, well, COVID. Given the mercurial relationship between the band’s central siblings, it was anybody’s guess if the tour would ever happen.

It’s happening. It started happening Tuesday night, in Nashville. I caught news of it just now in the car; Sirius had credible audio of the opening number (“Twice as Hard”) which still boils with swagger and slide and an astonishingly undiminished-by-time voice from Chris Robinson. Rolling Stone has video, but the audio isn’t great there.

The tour hits Houston — well, the Woodlands — on August 14. I’ve said for years I had no interest in driving back up there for a show, but on this one, well, BITCH I MIGHT.

On rules, and exceptions to those rules

On Saturday, I was finishing a small group ride when we passed a “boomer bar” up in the Heights that’s usually blaring Freedom Rock or whatever. This time, it was a cover of Changes, which prompted me to say to the person next to you that “you know what? There’s just never any reason to cover David Bowie. It’s perfect already. You will not add goodness to the universe by trying.” They laughed, and we rolled on.

This morning, I am forced to confront one of those situations where an exception basically proves the rule.

Turns out, if you’re Trent Reznor, it’s okay.

“The band was formed when the members were teenaged pupils of Mount Temple Comprehensive School and had limited musical proficiency.”

It’s June 1, 1978. You and your mates in your high school band get to play on TV — national TV!

Bono here is freshly 18, as is Adam Clayton (who was born on my birthday 10 years prior). But Edge and Larry haven’t had their 1978 birthdays yet, and are just 16.

They’re all 60 now, or nearly so. They’re still in a band.

Pleased to meet you.

Lord knows I’m mostly out of patience for boomer-era culture, but there’s absolutely nothing deniable about the Stones in their heyday.

This is the first performance of “Sympathy for the Devil,” from 1968 concert film “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus,” so they’re basically at their peak. It’s also the last performance (apparently) with Brian Jones, who’d be ejected from the band — and planet Earth — within a year.

Watch for John Lennon dancing at about 5 minutes. ;)

Billy Joe Shaver, dead at 81

My friend Andrew penned the Chronicle coverage:

Billy Joe Shaver — a honky-tonk hero so original he coined the phrase “honky-tonk hero” — has died of a stroke. He was 81.

Shaver was without question one of the greatest songwriters Texas produced, which made him among the best in the larger field of music. He mined his life for songs about drifting and dabbling, all manner of ill-advised behaviors that seemed certain to put him in the grave before age 81. “The devil made me do it the first time,” he sang in “Black Rose,” a song about visiting a brothel. “Second time I done it on my own.”

His lyrical sensibility had a natural quality that defied all training and logic. He wrote like he spoke, and it nevertheless came out as poetry. That style endeared him to some of the biggest country music stars of the 1970s. While Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were the face of what became known as Outlaw country in the 1970s, Shaver didn’t enjoy the same spoils of success as those two men. There was no golfing to fill Billy Joe Shaver’s time.

Whether at a gig or between shows, he ambled around in the same denim shirt and jeans — songwriter Todd Snider called him “the Man in Blue” — hair wild and squinting eyes gleaming with notions of pending trouble. He endured the death of his wife and his son, a heart attack and a quadruple bypass and a broken back. He was acquitted for shooting a man in the face.

A few years back, I was talking with some friends over drinks about whether or not my then-20+ year tenure in Texas has naturalized me to “true Texan” status. The natives were unsure about it — until I told them this:

I’ve shaken Billy Joe Shaver’s hand in Gruene Hall.

I’ll hang my hat on that. Godspeed, Billy Joe.

On loving a band, and loving The National

I’ll be up front and say that I do not love The National like this author, but I am entirely familiar with the sort of distracting and potentially unseemly love one may develop for a band that hits you where you live at just the right moment. Feeling that way about music is a magical gift; it opens doors to friendships and relationships and experiences that are inaccessible any other way.

So yeah, even if The National — whom I do enjoy — have never been that band for ME, I absolutely understand what Helena Fitzgerald is talking about here.

Oh, and while you’re at it? Here’s a great interview with frontman Matt Berninger you may enjoy, too.

And I’m listening to The National a bit more, anyway. Hey, nothing but time, right?

Not forever, just for now

It’s come to my attention — via the ever-reliable Jon Frazer D — that Uncle Tupelo’s barn-burner of a debut album No Depression was released 30 years ago this year.

Ouch.

In commemoration of said anniversary, please enjoy this YouTube of “Whiskey Bottle;” it’s not a video per se, but it does include a whole lot of contemporary snapshots of the band from those long-ago days.

Dept. of Heathen Cultural Archeology

So, the insanely talented bandleader on James Corden’s Late Late Show is a guy named Reggie Watts. Astute readers of Heathen should note that the first mention here of Watts or his output is actually in the long-ago era of 2002, when I hipped you all to Watts’ prior band Maktub; here’s a YouTube clip of one of their songs.

Watts came up again in as a solo performer in 2007 here; that video link is dead, but the clip is available at YouTube.

Somewhere along the line, Watts pivoted to comedy; you can see he’s there already in his 2012 TED talk, which I just saw (again) on a “best of 2010s” list, and so here we are.

While you weren’t looking, everyone else got old

This excellent performance of Bowie’s “Five Years” by the Cowboy Junkies is worth your time.

But if you haven’t seen them in a long while, you may — as I was — be taken aback by Margo’s white hair. You shouldn’t; Timmons was born in 1961, just like plenty of the musical idols of our shared youth (I mean, she’s younger than all the members of R.E.M., for example).

The Trinity Session is, of course, over 30 years old now.

And then there’s this: Have you looked in the mirror lately? Odds are, you’re getting older, too.

Today in Pop Will Eat Itself

Ric Ocasek, of course, has died. He was 75.

His age is only one of the several surprising things I learned about him in the wake of his passing. The Cars were an earlier, more established band than most of what I listened to growing up, so I understand they’re likely to be older (ie, born in the 1940s, like the members of Blondie, not the 1950s or 60s, like bands that hit in the mid-80s), but still: Ric Ocasek was 75? I mean, damn; that puts him in the same age cohort as folks who hit in the early 60s, like the Stones. (Benjamin Orr, who died of cancer in 2000, was only a little younger (b. 1947).)

The second surprising thing is this: though estranged for about a year or so, he and Paulina Porizkova were still married. Rock musicians and supermodels aren’t the sort of folks you think of when you say “thirty year marriage,” but here we are.

Finally, I found this morning that the song I most wanted to see — well, the video I most wanted to see — was “Magic” from 1984’s Heartbeat City. You know it: it’s the one where Ocasek appears to walk on water in a fancy swimming pool behind an even fancier home.

Here’s the fun part: That house is the west coast family home for Richard and Kathy Hilton, i.e. Paris’ parents. Paris, born in 1981, would’ve been about 3 when they shot this video.

Weird.

“No amount of antipathy for the hollowness of fashion can prepare you for how powerfully uncool Phish is.”

This is a really great piece on Phish from an outsider’s perspective.

So I went to a Phish show. It was a big deal, not because I love Phish, but because my partner Leah loves them, and I emphatically do not. In our nearly 14 years together, this hasn’t been a problem (apart from the time she tried to make the case that a band I like is similar to Phish, and I, uh, did not respond well), but after I reluctantly agreed to finally go to a show with her, it started to feel increasingly consequential: If ever an event could shatter any notion of our fundamental compatibility, it would be this one. And ending a long-term relationship surrounded by 25,000 people whose collective drug haze effectively constitutes its own microclimate seemed less than ideal. So I decided to do everything I could to approach the live Phish experience as gracefully as possible.

Ha!

And

Phish culture’s preppie-infused hippie essence is equally off-putting. Maybe it’s because punk happened; or because we’ve internalized the war on drugs; or because Don Henley saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac; or because Phish’s music generally has no discernible message; or because it all seems so anachronistic and naive and lazily escapist. Whatever the reason, ingesting an assortment of psychedelics and blissfully writhing along with a 30-minute Trey Anastasio guitar solo while wearing a donut-patterned beach towel as a cape is the kind of behavior that might make you more enemies than friends.

And (my favorite):

This was the baggage I brought with me to Camden, New Jersey’s BB&T Pavilion, where we set up a blanket on the lawn about 20 minutes before showtime. There were six of us: three fans and three non-fans, which sounds like a nice even split until you remember that my two pseudo-anthropologist compatriots and I were actually outnumbered by about 8,000 to one. And let me tell you, those many thousands of Phishheads were very, very happy to be there. When the first few notes of the poetically named “Mike’s Song” kicked off the show, the crowd reacted as if Prince had returned from the dead and announced he’d be producing new episodes of The Wire.

Reader, I lol’d. (Emph. added.)

Meanwhile, in 1979…

Joy Division, with an important Transmission.

This might be the best one-song TV performance I’ve ever seen, and it’s 40 years old now. I’m having trouble nailing down the date, but there’s a graphic for Unknown Pleasures behind them; that album was recorded in April of 1979, and behind it they played twice on British television: in July of 79, on Granada TV, and soon after that on BBC2’s Something Else.

They’d release Transmission as a stand-alone, non-album single the following November, seemingly poised for larger success. And then, of course, Ian Curtis would take his own life in May of the following year, at 23.

Tom Waits’ Asylum Years

Longtime Heathen know our fondness for Mr Waits; this excellent retrospective of his early work — from his debut with Closing Time in 1973 through 1980’s Heartattack and Vine — traces his progression from neo-tin-pan-alley to the much more experimental artist he would eventually become.

After 1980, he would leave Asylum records and begin his collaboration (and marriage) with Kathleen Brennan; the changes were stark when Island Records released Swordfishtrombones three years later. (That’s the album, of course, which features “Johnsburg, Illinois,” about his new wife’s birthplace.)

WAT THE HELL, Tove Lo edition

When I see interesting things on Twitter I don’t have time for right away, I email the tweet to myself. Generally what happens then is I forget completely about it in my inbox, since I’m a proud practitioner of Inbox 9,028.

I was just reviewing some of those, and I found a tweet from @ParkerMolloy saying “This is the weirdest music video I’ve seen in a while” with a Youtube link.

Parker is not wrong. Stay with it until AT LEAST 2:00. Longer is better. Plus, it’s catchy.

Definitely NSFW, however. Also, trigger warning for puppet sex — which, I think, is a first for Heathen. Go us.